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Azadi March: Winners And Losers

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As Maulana Fazlur Rehman announces end to his anti-government sit-in in Islamabad, Abdul Qayyum Khan Kundi analyses the key takeaways from the whole episode. 

Finally, Azadi March has been wounded down without achieving anything substantial for the betterment of people, democracy or fair elections. I was opposed to it both publicly and behind closed doors in my consultation with opposition parties. But I am still concerned that it can be metastasized into a countrywide protest if unwise politics of Imran Khan, his cabinet and his facilitators continued. I do hope that better sense eventually prevails and there will be a serious dialogue to make the parliament more relevant. But it does provide us an opportunity to take stock of who gained or lost from this just-concluded dharna called Azadi March.

Let’s first talk about the losers. Imran Khan was one of the losers because the media incessantly played his 2014 Dharna video clips. These reminded the nation that he acted like a rebellious warlord that was willing to burn and destroy anything that stood in the way of his ambition. He wanted to reach the PM house by hook or crook. He was eager and willing to break all bonds of law and constitution to achieve it. 

The other loser was Nawaz Sharif who came out publicly in support of the Azadi March and instructed his party to let no stone remain unturned to make it a success. The party ignored his call and there was no substantial presence of PML N supporters in the protest. Rather the recent concessions granted to him by the courts are being promoted as a deal by his political opponent. It has also damaged his narrative of Vote Ko Izzat Dou. The soap opera being played around his foreign travel for medical reasons will further erode his image as well as that of Imran Khan.

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The biggest loser was the military establishment whose political role has been a center stage before and during the Azadi March. Military efforts to deny any role in politics was without substance and deep thinking. There is growing anger in the public about this interference and it is heartening that they refused to engage in any dialogue with Azadi March organizers although their traditional proxies were at the forefront. The military is finding it hard to give up on the last 70 years of political involvement and there no serious efforts on the horizon.

Now let’s talk about who gained from it. Maulana Fazlur Rehman was the only politician who gained from it. He emerged on a national scene as a politician who could gather and move large crowds. He spoke in measured tones without getting carried away by the large chanting crowd. He did not allow the crowd to control him, rather led them amicably. I have already predicted that Maulana Fazal ur Rehman will use the political capital, earned from a good protest, to reorganize and lead Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) as a prime minister candidate in the next elections. This is now on the cards and the purpose of Plan B to organize nationwide protest is to develop second-tier cadre.

The other winners were the madrassa students who behaved in a civil and disciplined manner. PTI dharna’s urban participants were rowdy, ill-disciplined, and uncivilized despite their claims to be ‘educated’. But these madrassa students beat them hands down in their civility and peaceful protest. We may disagree with their ideology but they must be appreciated for their behavior and commitment.

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The biggest winner was the Pakistani nation. Once again the nation rejected Dharna politics just like it rejected past ones organized by Dr. Tahir ul Qadir, Khadim Rizvi, and Imran Khan. The message from the nation was that these protests have got nothing to do with their needs and aspirations. This is a tribal contest between political rivals purely for the sake of gaining power. The nation suffers while these rich politicians play gladiator games with each other through the expression of street power. 

The failure of these dharnas is a clear indication that the nation has lost confidence that the politicians represent their interests. Not only that the decline in voter turnout, the failure to organize credible and legitimate elections, and earning of the mandate through a small percentage of votes as characteristic of first-past-the-post system are all indicative of widening the gulf between people and their politicians. This situation cannot be fixed by the current republic. The only solution is to replace it with a new republic that is designed to allow people to have a larger voice in national decisions.

God willing, when the movement for the second republic is launched, the nation will come out in its support unlike the failed Dharnas organized by status quo political parties.

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